Lust for Freedom (1987, USA)
“I never realised how much I took freedom for granted until it was taken away.” So says ex-cop, ex-prisoner and narrator Gillian Kaites (Melanie Coll), explaining her lust for freedom. Don’t expect anything deeper.
Gillian works as an undercover cop. Her partner is also her fiancé, which somehow doesn’t seem like standard police procedure. Three days before their wedding, a greenhorn colleague blows their cover while they are negotiating a tricky arms deal, and the fiancé gets popped. “Cops were dying all over the place and all I could do was act like a woman,” she says, a little harshly, of her distress at the time. She leaves her job and starts driving to nowhere in particular.
Somewhere in the desert near the California-Mexico border, she is hailed down by a frantic woman in an evening dress who says she is an escapee an implores her to drive at speed to the county line. Being a cop, she doesn’t exceed the speed limit and pulls over when Sheriff Coale (William J Kulzer) asks her to. Her new on-the-run acquaintance is duly shot dead, and Gillian dutifully accompanies the Sheriff back to the Georgia County Women’s Correctional Facility to make a witness statement. Bad move. She is drugged, charged with drug possession, and sentenced to an indeterminate sentence by the prison warden who doubles as the judge. Lesson: if a woman in an evening dress claims to be a prison escapee, take them seriously.
The prison seems to set out to be even more corrupt than the one in Chained Heat (1983). The head guard, Ms Pusker (Judi Trevor), is nasty and sadistic and vicious and controls the drug trade. The prettiest prisoners are assessed by the prison doctor to be sold to Mexico to star in porno films, and the whole prison seems to be geared around this commercial business… dragging unsuspecting young women off the road, detaining them on fabricated charges, and on-selling them. Pusker manipulates or uses certain prisoners to have others killed. A male guard rapes a prisoner at gunpoint, a flagellator creepily strips to the waist so that he can flog an escapee, and a big Native American, Jud (John Tallman) hunts women on the road and rapes them. Freelancing Warden Maxwell (Howard Knight) orders an actor to kill a drugged prisoner in his own snuff movie. A wrestling match is staged, with the women fighting to the death. All very uplifting.
Gillian may be pre-occupied with her narration duties, for it takes her a while to realise that there is something rotten in the state of Denmark. Although she knows that she has been unlawfully imprisoned, she assumes that all the other women are hardened criminals who deserve to be there… until a sweet about-to-be-wed young girl, Sharon Clarke (Elizabeth Carroll), finishes up in her cell and recounts a similar story to her own.
Once she decides to act, Gillian doesn’t muck about. She destroys all the guards, releases all the prisoners, and gets to share in all of Sharon’s happiness when she is reunited with her parents and marries her beloved.
If one were generous you could view this as a spoof of the WIP genre, the best evidence for which is maybe a scene in which two prisoners tenderly make love to the sound of the screams of the prisoner who is being whipped while another is being raped. There is an unusually plentiful supply of single women to be locked up in this middle-of-nowhere prison. Maybe there’s tongue-in-cheek there. And then there’s Sharon’s happy-ever-after ending, with her showing no scarring from being wrongfully imprisoned and raped at knifepoint, and Gillian celebrating with her and showing not the tiniest bit of compunction about incinerating a number of guards and mowing down many others with automatic weapons - for which she was presumably seen to have acted in legitimate self-defence. But it’s so similar to many other ludicrously-scripted, exploitative WIP films that it fits very neatly into that C-grade sleazy movie space.
I probably needed Leslie Neilsen to pop up somewhere to convince me that it wasn’t taking itself too seriously, and Melanie Coll is no Leslie Neilsen.
Posted on November 1st, 2016 at 9:45 am. Updated on November 1st, 2016 at 11:02 am.
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